Welcome to my latest trip report. As I bid farewell to Star Alliance with a bang, flying through the First Class Terminal at Frankfurt and on Swiss First Class, I embrace the future that is Emirates First Class on the A380 and the onboard shower. Read on!
Here’s what’s coming up:
Heathrow Terminal 5 Galleries Club
London-Frankfurt: British Airways Club Europe
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport
Lufthansa Frankfurt First Class Terminal
Frankfurt-Zurich: Swiss European Business Class
Zurich Swiss First Class Lounge
Zurich-Delhi: Swiss First Class
Delhi Airport: Emirates Lounge
Delhi-Dubai: Emirates First Class Skycruiser seat
Dubai Airport: Emirates First Class Lounge
Dubai-London Heathrow: Emirates First Class Suite
Before that, some background to this trip. If that sort of thing bores you and you want to skip straight to the action (and the photographs) then be my guest. It’s your computer and more importantly your time. Who am I to impose any rules?
Enjoy the show.
It was early 2005 and as I sat in the middle seat of a United Airlines 777 headed from Heathrow to Los Angeles, I vowed to find a way of not having to travel Economy but also not upsetting my bank manager. There, wedged into the middle seat of a block of 5 I slowly went mad as the flight seemed to drag on hour after hour. The boredom made far worse by the anticipation of what was to come, a stag do (bachelor party) in Vegas.
The following month I discovered Flyertalk. I had already started collecting miles with bmi via an MBNA credit card and by using it almost exclusively a healthy balance was waiting, ready for me to use. It was too late to use them for our honeymoon and so I stumped up the cash for a pair of Business Class tickets but after reading and asking the odd question I managed to book a trip for the following summer across America.
Fast forward seven years and bmi looked set to be absorbed into British Airways, the name and with it Diamond Club becoming a footnote in history. With that in mind I rang the International Call Centre for what would be the final time to book my last trip funded out of my DC account.
Given that this was to be one final hurrah with Star Alliance I wanted to go out with a bang. A second visit to the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt seemed a good idea but not LH
First to Delhi, no if I was saying goodbye to Star Alliance there was just one choice: Swiss First Class.
Starting a trip in the UK compared to neighbouring European nations is expensive. This is largely due to the stratospheric rise in Air Passenger Duty over the past five years. As a child I recall trips to Kenya and India where you had to pay a Government levy on departure. It wasn’t part of your ticket but instead you had to go to a counter at the airport and buy a stamp which was affixed to your ticket, the absence of which prevented you from checking-in. It was a system that I thought was long gone until we visited Costa Rica a few years ago where it’s alive and well. Back to UK APD. It seemed rather innocuous when it was introduced given that it ranged from £5 for a European flight in Y to £40 in any other cabin. Then in 2007 it doubled to £10 to £80, a move that resulted in a huge public outcry. This however was just the tip of the iceberg and from April 2012, APD in a premium cabin to countries whose capital city is 6000 miles or more from London will be £184.
For this trip to India, the APD was £150. Starting my journey in London I would have to take an early flight to Zurich to enjoy any time in the lounge or a slightly later flight and run from one to another. That wasn’t the point of this trip. I wanted to savour my flights and so the same £150 could be better spent on a positioning flight to Frankfurt and a hotel via Priceline.
Deciding how to get to Frankfurt was an easy decision. One of the changes to the BA
Avios program was the introduction of Reward Flight Savers where instead of paying the tax and fuel surcharge as it normal, BA
has set a low fixed fee which makes redemptions considerably cheaper. A few thousand miles and £17 later I had a Club Europe to Frankfurt. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered with flying Club Europe given the short sector but my schedule meant that I would probably arrive at Terminal 5 around 2-3 hours before my flight. 4,500 miles seemed like a good deal in return for access to the Galleries Club lounge at T5
But how to get back? European carriers by and large opt for the same pattern for their Indian flights. They arrive in the wee small hours of the morning and after a quick turn around make their way back. What’s the fun of flying First Class on a flight that departs at 2am and flies through the night? If I want to sleep, I could fly one of the better Business Class products out there. No, this was another bout of unnecessary opulence.
Last time I flew home the wrong way, traveling east to Bangkok and onto Hong Kong before turning back towards London via Zurich. This time I decided to be more conventional and fly in the direction of my ultimate goal. It was a choice between the various Gulf carriers. I’d heard good things about Oman, Qatar and Ethiad from various friends and I’d flown Emirates before albeit in J. Whilst there were many plus points for the others my decision was made pretty quickly given that the difference in price was minimal; Emirates was the clear winner given that (i) only they offer F from India to the Gulf, the remainder offer J and some with a narrowbodied aircraft and more importantly (ii) I could take my maiden voyage on the A380. The choice became even easier when I realised that a glut of otherwise forgotten about EK
miles could be used to upgrade my flights so that brought the price down even further. Sold. I hadn’t been on the A380 and was keen to. Added to that the novelty of having a shower in-flight sounded fun. Minutes later I had another e-ticket. There were quicker connections but my itinerary had 8 hours between flights for me to explore the F lounge in Dubai.
BA Club Europe
When the price of a taxi rose above £50 from my house I decided that unless I was flying first thing in the morning, from now I would make do with the tube. Midway through that tube journey I regretted not spending £50. From where I live Paddington station isn’t particularly convenient and so the Heathrow Express shaves off a mere 15 minutes and for a ridiculous premium. Eventually the tube arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 and I rushed out of the tube through the barriers and towards the lifts. It was only as I impatiently waited for the doors to shut that I wondered to myself what the hurry was? I had plenty of time to kill before my flight. In the end I decided that sitting for 90 minutes had rendered my legs like a coiled spring, ready and willing to break free at any opportunity. My PE
teachers would have been proud and amazed in almost equal measures.
Upstairs on the departure level it was a bright sunny day which leads to a bright sunny T5
as the sun streams through the glass. I could immediately see the effect of Iberia’s arrival the previous day with their signs proudly dotted around the floor and desks with both the BA
and Iberia branding on the screen, albeit one considerably smaller than the others. Aside from my first ever experience at T5
where the bag drop took 45 minutes I have always found it to be exceptionally quick and so my plan was to use whichever bag drop I saw first without a horrendous queue. That certainly didn’t describe those I first encountered so I carried on walking down the terminal towards the Club desks.
Before long I was at the Club check-in area, the afterthought at T5
. When it was first built there was a First check-in area but nothing for those flying Business Class or holding a Silver card. That was eventually put right and on this occasion I was delighted to see desks with no queues. The check-in agent was friendly and tagged my bag to Frankfurt. I walked off to the South security and went through the Fast Track lane. Approaching the security area I witnessed something new at T5
; the distinct lack of a queue. Fast Track was really fast and I made it through in a few minutes. What was the wonderful panacea? Was I dreaming? Well if I was, I quickly returned to Earth with a bump as I witnessed yet another BAA Security employee being gratuitously rude to a passenger. The overwhelming majority are courteous and conduct themselves with a level of seriousness befitting their position. The few that don’t however, stand out like a sore thumb. Power corrupts, a fetching green BAA uniform corrupts absolutely.
I glanced left to see an area under construction with a sign indicating that it will soon form part of the connections area. I’ve never had to connect through Terminal 5 but the mentions in dispatches as to the speed and ease of doing seem to indicate that it isn’t great and so I suspect these improvements will come as some relief. I took a moment to buy Mrs BiH some perfume and then made my way to the Galleries South lounge. In celebration of Iberia’s arrival at Terminal 5 there was to be a lounge event where tapas from Brindisa would be on offer.
I arrived in the lounge just before it was due to begin and so poured myself a glass of water and found a seat. There was a short delay in the tapas being set up as apparently the staff from Brindisa were held up a security but around 30 minutes later than planned I could spy slices of chorizo and all was forgiven. In the interim I went in search of a can of Diet Coke but none could be found. I tried all of the fridges and increasingly looked like a bit of nutcase as I scoured from one fridge to another. Eventually I was told that they had run out across the Galleries lounges and that there would be some more tomorrow!
Back to the tapas. There were wooden boards with slices of chorizo glistening under the lights, the fat beginning to melt and cast a sheen over it. I took several slices and a couple of large juicy green olives before turning towards my seat. “Sir, what about the jamon?” The man hand slicing a large leg of jamon put on a mock offended face as I appeared to ignore what was on offer. “It’s not Iberico is it?” I said trying desperately not to sound like to much of a food snob (but almost certainly failing miserably) “No sir, it is not, that would be far too expensive!” We chatted for a moment as he carved a few slivers for the man behind me. I explained that I had been spoiled by eating various grades of jamon iberico and so I would stick to the chorizo. Yes, that’s right, I am a food snob and I’ve got a rarely updated blog to prove it! ( www.ponderinggourmet.com
) After more trips that strictly necessary and healthy to the oft replenished board of chorizo I moved over the windows looking out over the apron and threshold of the takeoff runway. By now I had moved on to a very spicy bloody mary which was rather refreshing as I watched airfield operations. The calm only briefly interrupted by a man who came and sat opposite me and then proceeded to have a rather loud FaceTime chat with what I presumed to be his girlfriend given how lascivious the conversation appeared to be, albeit in a different language and one that I couldn’t understand.
I walked to the other end of the lounge which is quieter and darker. It overlooks the southern security area but most importantly had a large fridge filled with mini tubs of Green and Blacks ice cream though I hear that the fridge is currently out of service and the tubs have vanished. I made myself a ‘Galleries Affogato’; a self-penned recipe which I have since donated to the BA
lounge foraging thread which can be found here
There was still 45 minutes before boarding and I had got a little bored of sitting around so I went for a walk through the retail area. Less than 10 minutes later I found myself at the other end of the terminal, un-persuaded by any of the shops and so I decided to wait out the final half an hour in the Galleries North lounge which was just at the top of the escalator. Whilst the South lounge feels relatively spacious (for a J lounge), the North is and feels a little more cramped and it was with some difficulty that I found a seat. I checked, there were no cans of Diet Coke to be seen here either and indeed one of the fridges had stopped working and was pumping out hot air. I didn’t fancy a can of hot bitter lemon (which I assume would be reminiscent of Lemsip) so I found a working fridge and waited on the terrace, watching through the large windows as planes landed. The wifi coverage in both lounges was rather good but the speeds were painfully slow. I wanted to check-in for my flight the following day to Delhi and eventually had to give up as each request timed out. The computers provided were much quicker so I used one briefly before leaving the lounge as my flight was about to board. On my way out I noticed that the newspaper and magazine racks already seemed to have a far greater number of Spanish titles.
I arrived at my gate as they announced that it was ready for boarding. I used the Fast Track lane and was on board shortly thereafter. As I walked down the jetbridge I inhaled that heady mix of jet fuel and the apron which is familiar from Aarhus to Zabljak as the smell of getting on a plane. The sight used to be aircraft, but now it’s HSBC. That suddenly reminded me, I was about to use my debit card in four countries over the next 30 hours so I made a note to call once I sat down. More than once I’ve had a card declined because they think it is being used fraudulently so I prefer to give them fair warning.
I was greeted at the door by a friend member of the cabin crew and I settled into 1F. The plane boarded relatively quickly and after I made my call I looked around to see that today’s A319 had 7 rows of Club Europe with 20 occupants. Economy looked pretty much full.
We pushed back just after our STD and made the short journey to the active (south) runway and were quickly up in the air. It was a bright sunny day and my window seat afforded me a great view out over south London.
‘Chris’ (not his real name) served the CE
cabin professionally and warmly without being obsequious; that ticks all three boxes for me. Once the seat belt light was extinguished he sprung into action serving from the bar before returning with the afternoon tea tray of a couple of finger sandwiches and scones with cream and jam. I wasn’t particularly interested in the sandwiches (the quantity of chorizo earlier having put pay to that) and luckily too as both the bread and filling had dried out.
I sipped my glass of Pommery as the sun beamed through the window. Chris returned with a basket of scones and prompted me to take two as they were “smaller than usual”. Assessing the quantity of clotted cream and jam I complied! For the next 15 minutes I happily listened to the Bugle (fantastic satirical podcast), ate scones and drank champagne. The rest of the flight passed quite quickly. My tray was collected and Chris tried to persuade me that a second bottle of champagne would keep me company until we landed but instead I opted for a couple of cans of Diet Coke. We landed in Frankfurt on time and then taxied for what seemed like and eternity until we parked at a hard stand at the very eastern tip of Terminal 2. I spotted an LH
A380 taxing out to a runway
and a Korean A380 which I later discovered was on its inaugural service to Frankfurt.
The doors opened and I walked down the stairs to a bus not before thanking Chris as I left the aircraft. After a short journey across the tarmac I began the long walk to Terminal 1. Arriving at the very eastern end of Terminal 2, walking past a number of gates and through passport control I reached the baggage carousel to see my bag first out on the belt almost allowing me to grab it and keep walking without coming to a halt! Walking through Terminal 2 I spotted the signs for the monorail to Terminal 1 which led me a merry dance through a shopping area and up an escalator which was tucked away in the corner and almost missed. I reached the platform as the doors opened and as I got on they closed behind me.
At the other end, the tram deposited me at Terminal 1 check-in and I couldn’t see the signs to the Sheraton where I would be spending the night. What I could hear however, was a hulabaloo of noise with voices and klaxons competing to be heard above a din of whistles and singing. As I got closer I realised what it was. In early 2012 a Union representing various airport workers at Frankfurt had staged a series of strikes in protest at changes in pay and conditions being imposed upon them (for the German Economists out there, I appreciate that this is perhaps an over-simplification of the situation but it matters not for the purpose of my report). These strikes were well publicised and so when no more were announced before my trip, I felt safe. The Union had other plans. This was a strike at short notice.
I finally arrived at the Sheraton a good 45 minutes after leaving the aircraft and as I got the lobby the enormity of the situation struck me. There were boards up with information about flights being rescheduled the following morning. It would appear that all LH
flights before 3pm were cancelled. Oh dear! I checked-in, dropped off my bags and returned to the terminal building.
There was quite a queue at the First/Business/Star Alliance Gold customer service counter with people angrily shouting at staff and paying little attention to the queue. A large number of efficient Lufthansa staff walked around carefully pouring oil onto these troubled waters, changing tickets and rerouting customers. Eventually I was seen by a member of staff who assured me that whilst all the Lufthansa flights to Zurich the following morning were cancelled, the two Swiss flights would be operating. I had managed to check-in for both flights but could only secure a middle seat from Zurich to Delhi. She was unable to assist as Lufthansa don’t have access to the Swiss check-in system.
I contemplated a quick trip into Frankfurt but time was marching on so I took a light dinner in the terminal and returned to my room where a plethora of German channels were reporting on the impact of the strike. It was nationwide and set to disrupt the entire Lufthansa schedule the following day. Worry began to set in. Would my flight be cancelled? I couldn’t get a decent mobile data signal in my room and the in room wifi was the usual extortionate rate, so much so that I wondered if it would be cheaper to ring someone in the Federated States of Micronesia and get them to read the internet out to me.
I turned to an all-together more primitive source of data. I remembered that most German channels still had a teletext service and so armed with my GCSE German, I channel surfed until I found one that had flight information. Bingo! I found a page that listed the following morning’s flights from Frankfurt. Page 1 of 8 shone in front of me and continued to radiate around the room as I waited for it to change. It didn’t. I then hammered on several buttons on the remote in the hope that I could force it to show other sub pages. I couldn’t. I gave up. With the prospect of ITV3 as the only English language entertainment channel, I turned on my Mac and watched an episode of 30 Rock before turning in early for bed.
The First Class Terminal
(Apologies for the blur, it was early in the morning!)
I woke early the next morning and had a shower before packing and checking-out. The lobby was already quite full presumably with people who had managed to get to Frankfurt but were now stuck. I had directions to the First Class Terminal which I had saved on my iPhone so I left the terminal building at the appropriate level and began the short walk to it. Suddenly my phone beeped. I had two texts, one from Swiss and one from Lufthansa. Both told me that my flight had been cancelled. Damn!
I arrived at the FCT and took the elevator up to the main lobby. I was greeted at the lift by a member of staff as the doors opened who had the weary look of someone ready to break bad news to many people today. I showed her my itinerary and she confirmed that my flight was cancelled. She suggested that I went through security and got some breakfast whilst she considered alternatives. The train was a possibility. My suitcase would be held at reception until a decision had been made. I was quickly through the FCT security screening and made my way directly to the dining area.
While my phone logged onto the wifi, I got a small plate of bacon and eggs to eat whilst I looked at the options available. The bacon was crisp and salty which sat well with the light and creamy eggs. The Lufthansa app on my phone showed that everything from here to Zurich was cancelled with one exception, the Swiss flight after my scheduled flight was showing as still operating. It was supposed to be an Avro-85 and would arrive 75 minutes before my flight to Delhi. Just then, the member of staff dealing with my ticket returned. She told me that the train would get me to Zurich well after my flight to Delhi would depart. The choice was either to spend a day in Frankfurt and fly the same itinerary tomorrow, or take the Air India flight that evening. What about the Swiss flight I asked? She chided me, “I told you that all the flights were cancelled”. I asked that she check again because the Lufthansa app indicated the opposite. She said she would do so, but that I would have to decide whether I wanted to fly Air India that night or Swiss tomorrow, soon as the Swiss flight to Delhi the following day had just one seat left in F.
As she left, I was approached by a different member of lounge staff. He asked if I would like something prepared from the breakfast menu. I chose the pancakes and he recommended a glass of rose champagne to accompany it. Why not!
Just then, the first member of staff returned and as she walked towards me I could see a boarding pass in her hand. The second Swiss flight was operating and had been upgauged to an A321 given the circumstances. I would make it to Zurich and for the first time that morning, all was calm again.
I had been to the FCT before [URL=”http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/948189-india-f-lufthansa-f-thai-f-swiss-f-jet-airways-domestic-j-pics.html”] (click here for a link to an old trip report) [/URL] when I transited through Frankfurt on a London-Frankfurt-Delhi trip. I hadn’t been hugely impressed on that occasion but my view this time was rather different. I’m sure the paucity of flights on strike day meant that the FCT was less busy than normal, but I had sat and eaten breakfast whilst a member of staff had rearranged my flights. The lounge was quiet and peaceful, security had been a breeze and the bacon was crispy. Have I already mentioned that? What’s changed since my last visit? Well the extension of Pier A means that you are no longer afforded a view of the airfield from the terminal, instead your view is of that of the terminal building. Not, I suspect, what they had in mind when the FCT was constructed.
I whiled away my remaining time in the FCT by surfing the internet, checking that Swiss flight had indeed left Zurich and tracked its progress into an otherwise ghostly Frankfurt. Declining a top up of the rather drinkable champagne, I asked instead for a bottle of sparking water and made my way through that. I looked through the drinks menu noting the extensive selection of rather fine whisky pondering for a moment whether the itinerary difficulties that I had faced that morning qualified me to have an early sharpener, but wisely deciding not. My time in the FCT had come to an end. The same lady who greeted me on arrival a few hours earlier came to where I was sitting and invited me to follow her downstairs to my flight.
LX? Airbus A321
On the floor below the lounge I was directed to a Mercedes S class along with two other passengers who were on my flight to Zurich. They were traveling together and sat in the back whilst I took the front seat. Almost simultaneously, the lady sitting behind me and I said to each other “Have you got enough room?” We were both amazed at the huge amount of legroom in this S class (I think it was a long wheel-base model) and assumed that the other had been cramped in. Not so.
We drove out of the FCT compound and towards Pier A. I had hoped our flight was parked some distance away but I could immediately see a Swiss tail directly before us. With little traffic (car or plane) this morning we were quickly at the aircraft.
Our driver took us upstairs to the jetway which was packed solid and we joined a very slow moving queue. When we finally got to the aircraft door the Flight Attendant scolded our driver. They spoke in German and whilst I caught the odd word it was the tone rather than the content that gave away what might have been said. I found my seat which was next to one of my fellow passengers from the FCT and settled in for the short flight to Zurich. I assumed that we would push back on time and scoot around an eerily quiet Frankfurt but as has happened on every shorthaul flight I have taken to Zurich we were held at the gate due to traffic at Kloten. Eventually we pushed back and as predicted trundled our way to a far off runway passing virtually no moving aircraft though I did spot an odd visitor to FRA
Water was handed out whilst we taxied to the runway and without further ado we were up in the air for this short hop to Zurich. The purser came round to greet the HON next to me as her colleague handed out small trays with a cake and a sandwich. My seatmate politely refused the tray and continued to read his newspaper, I tried to do the same but was handed it anyway!
The views of Southern Germany and Northern Switzerland were great on this clear day flying at a relatively low altitude and compared favourably to the only other in-flight entertainment on offer; the child behind me kicking the middle seat repeatedly and screaming at anything his mother said to him. The pilot announced our arrival into Zurich and the overhead monitors played the transit video before displaying a list of gates for those connecting in Zurich. We landed and I left the aircraft and arrived into a rather warm terminal building with the large windows trapping the late March sun. I walked along and then up an escalator to see the familiar site of the rotunda and spiral staircase that lead up to the First Class lounge.
I was welcomed by a very cheery man on reception who asked to see my boarding pass. I explained that I had just arrived from Frankfurt and that they were unable to print on in the FCT. He asked for my boarding pass stub and a few taps on his keyboard later a very white boarding pass popped out and was in my hands. It was so quick in fact that I forgot to ask if there was a window seat available. I did, there was and so a new boarding pass appeared with 1K on it. The elongated stay in Frankfurt meant that my stay would be curtailed to 20 minutes instead of an hour or so as was originally planned. I went in search of my usual Zurich snack; pink champagne and crispy bacon. The former was easy to find but the latter had gone and was replaced by some impressive looking amouse bouche.
I’ve visited this lounge a number of times before and really liked it. This time however it was very busy and I struggled to find a seat though eventually I hovered near a pair of sofas that were both draped with jackets and bags all of which belonged to a man wondering around on his phone. He looked and me and with a great flounce moved all of his possession to just the one sofa and I sat down. The time in the lounge flew by mainly as I tried and failed repeatedly to get the wifi to work on my iPhone. I wanted to send a couple of emails but gave up as it was time to get my car to the gate. I walked back to reception where I was joined by two others and a member of staff. We took the lift down to the departure area where my Passport was checked and then out to our car. Once again at Zurich we were all packed into a mini-van rather than one of the many Mercs and BMW that sat idly by. Are the cars just for HONs I wonder? I realise that this is nitpicking, but I’d like to have been whisked to the gate in an S class!
We arrived at the E dock having driven past an array of Swiss A330’s and 340’s as well as a plethora of other carriers shortly heading off to points far and wide. The three of us were led up some stairs and emerged in the terminal area. The staff member asked if we all knew where we were going and disappeared. Previously in Zurich you would encounter a security screening before you got in the car and then again on arrival at the E dock. I presume the latter to be the reason as to why Swiss, unlike Lufthansa, were unable to drive passengers directly to their aircraft. Now, both security checks have been eliminated so delivery to your aircraft is not only possible, but should be the norm.
I found my gate and boarded the aircraft. The steward at the door offered to show me to my seat but I declined and walked through the small C mini-cabin into First Class. My first impression was that the demi-suite concept with those high walls made the cabin feel more cramped and less spacious than it used to be. The difference when sitting down however was that each seat felt private and more secluded. On balance, as a solo traveler, I liked it. Not that I sat down immediately. I arrived at my seat to see a black suitcase in front of it. How odd? I found the steward to took a look at my boarding pass. I was in 1K. The suitcase was in 2K. Doh!
I took my correct seat, handed over my jacket on it’s 1K hangar (small touch, great idea) and put my hand baggage in the overhead compartment. The large screen and the finish of the suite impressed me. It was understated, classic and very Swiss. The Steward serving me today introduced himself and offered me a glass of Champagne which I gratefully took. Swiss serve Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siecle, which always hits the spot especially when served with thin, crisp, and tangy cheese straws. The poached fish was spiced and little too much so because I wasn’t told what it was, nor could I identify it. Prior to being served by amuse bouche, a Stewardess came to see me in order to check if I had ordered an Asian vegetarian meal. When I explained that I had not and in fact would probably order the exact opposite, red meat, she laughed and smiled.
The Captain came out whilst the (full) cabin enjoyed a glass of something with their cheese straws and fish (or not, there must have been a vegetarian alternative, I recall seeing what looked like paneer) and took questions from the cabin. He dutifully wandered around and answered the same 3 or 4 questions from most of the passengers but all with a smile on his face and all with genuine interest. He reminded me to keep looking out of my window after take-off for a great view of the alps.
The seat belt sign was extinguished and so I decided to have a little play with my seat before lunch.
Lifting up the large wooden panel to my right I found a traditional lozenge shaped control which doubled as an in-flight phone alongside the device above which was the size of a small sat-nav. It could be operated in situ or removed and ‘sat-up’ at the angle shown. The touch screen allowed you control all aspects of the seat environment, individual sections of the seat itself and convert the seat smoothly from upright to a bed and many positions in between. The screen was responsive and quick. Just underneath it in the photo above, you can see alternate buttons that control the seat (bed to upright) and the table if you wanted quick access to either.
Lunch menus were handed out and tables set. I was pretty hungry by now and so devoured the bread that quickly followed.
It was three bread roll doughs baked together, wholemeal, white and walnut. Simply delicious and a great foil to the deep, peppery and heavy extra virgin olive oil that accompanied it. Whilst I am a sucker for cold salty butter with bread I know that the olive oil on Swiss is fantastic and so couldn’t say no. Before the trolley with the first course came out, I was asked what I would like to drink and so had a look at the wine list:
- Vinattieri Bianco del Ticino, Vinattieri Ricinese 2010 (Switzerland)
- Esporao Reserva Private Selection Reguengos, Herdade de Esporao 2010 (Portugal)
- Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu, William Fevre 2009 (France)
- Casimiro Svizzera Italiana 2009 (Switzerland)
- Quinta Nova Reserva, Quinta Nova 2009 (Portugal)
- La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognan, La Mission Haut-Brion 2007 (France)
I have had some interesting wine on Swiss before by picking the wildcard, a dry Tokaji for example so whilst my safe choice would be the Chablis that I have drunk before I asked the steward what he thought of the Swiss white. He said as a Swiss man he must say that it’s good but that I should decide for myself and brought out two glasses so that I could compare it to the Chablis. It was described as a heavy white with a combination of creaminess from the Chardonnay and freshness from the Sauvignon Blanc. In the air however, it was like battery acid. He saw the wince on my face and before I could speak took the glass away and filled the second glass with the Chablis.
The starter trolley followed soon after. I can’t refuse Balik salmon and asked for three slices. It didn’t disappoint. The lobster coconut was too much of the latter and not enough of the former and the cured meat was okay. It was Germanic; coarse with the meat shining through and little else by way of flavour. Still, I wouldn’t get any more of this stuff until I got home so I was happy enough.
The tomato and coriander soup was delicious. It was a cross between a soup and an Indian dhal. Viscous and textured it had a warming rather than overt spice to it that was a great foil to the buttery Chablis. I could have eaten more but I suspect that would have been its undoing as the portion size was probably spot on.
The salad was good and I polished it off rather quickly. Too quickly in fact as I forgot to take a photo!
For my main I had quite a dilemma choosing between the sea bass and the lamb before going with the latter. Either could be overcooked and too dry but it was the fact that on my last Swiss F flight the main course meat was pink in the centre which led me to go for the lamb hoping the same would be true this time. Sure enough it was. The loin was moist and yielding with a brackish olive crust that partnered the cheesy potatoes beautifully. I took a glass of the Bordeaux with the lamb and though it was a bit thin in the air it stood up well enough.
Now it was time for the Kase (apologies, I can’t find the umlaut) and the choice was excellent as always. I took some gruyere and some valle maggia though the latter wasn’t really for me as even with just 10% goats milk it had that unmistakable tang that makes goats cheese the one food that I truly detest. The steward saw the wince on my face as he passed through the cabin and asked if I’d like some more gruyere instead! The plate wasn’t presented that well but frankly though I’ve had more dainty plates of cheese on a plane, none of them have contained cheese of the same quality that Swiss offer.
I looked around the cabin to see that everyone was having lunch and at different stages of their meal. Whilst eating my cheese the steward came over and asked if I was going to take pudding to which I said yes to what sounded like an exquisite amaretti cake with passion fruit mousse and raspberry ice cream that didn’t disappoint on the eye or the palate. Given the quantity consumed so far I asked if he could pause for a moment and serve me last which wasn’t a problem. I had a glass of 2006 Vidal Incewine which went well.
My table cleared, I settled back with an espresso and some chocolates to watch Johnny English 2. As the movie progressed I reclined my seat further towards the bed position falling asleep at the climax to the movie and waking as the credits finished rolling. Oh well.
I snoozed a little more until the pre-landing snack was offered. The Swiss First seat is very comfortable comprising as it does of just a few large well cushioned pieces. I slept a little more with the seat in a Z position waking as others began to tuck into their pre-landing snack.
After the excesses of lunch I had some lightly dressed salad leaves (without the optional fried mushrooms and bacon) followed by fruit. Others opted for a panini with mozzerella and parma ham or a quiche and then bread pudding. Enticing as much of it looked I was too full for the cheesy goodness that they promised.
Soon we were over Delhi and making our approach to Indira Gandhi International Airport and with one final loop we touched down on schedule and my screen wished me goodbye
Another superb flight on Swiss in First Class. I will miss the ability to cash my miles in for a flight on Swiss more than any other *A carrier. The long slow trundle through the darkness from the runway to the terminal seemed to go on forever. Eventually it got brighter and I could see the new terminal building glowing with aircraft around it.
This was the first time I had seen Delhi’s new terminal 3, a building that looked like any other contemporary terminal rather than the aging terminal 2 which I remember in its various forms; all of them fairly dire. The aircraft finally stopped at one of the gates at the furthest end of the long international pier. Doors opened, other passengers were held back whilst the First Class cabin emptied and the long trek to immigration began. It was a good 10 minutes before I reached the immigration queue where there are separate queues for First/Business class passengers though how it’s policed I’m not entirely sure. I can’t recall showing my boarding pass to anyone. The Immigration officer processing me did so without any interaction. Instead he spoke to his colleague in the next booth who was processing two businessmen who were trying to re-enter India on a tourist visa within 60 days of leaving the country. As my passport was handed back to me, a supervisor was being called to lead them off to an interview room.
On my last visit to Delhi my bag reached the carousel before I did. This time I was far less fortunate and began to worry as all of the priority bags appeared to have been taken off the carousel (the norm) and put to one side. Where was my bag? Had the change of flights from FRA
caused a problem? Was my bag currently languishing in the bowels of ZRH
airport? No, here it was amongst the last few bags off the plane. The new terminal also means a new car-park and the thankful elimination of the chaos that used to rule supreme. Within an hour I am in bed asleep.
Jet Airways 9W365
Seat 11C and later somewhere at the back of the plane
I hadn’t intended to visit Pune on this trip but a few days in, it became apparent that I would need to and so off I went to Jet Airways to buy a ticket. The crisis at Kingfisher had seen them drop their fares to incredibly low levels and though not by the same magnitude the others had followed. It was to be a short trip, out on Saturday morning and back on Monday. I had assumed that there would be a decent selection of flights distributed through the day but instead found departures either between 5-8am or 4-9pm. The former would necessitate a very early start; the latter would waste the day and so I booked a return ticket on Jet’s 07:45 departure returning on Monday night.
The traffic in Delhi appears to have improved in recent years but it still seems perilous in the dark. I wasn’t staying that far away from New Delhi railway station so decided to try out the Airport Express train. The station was chaotic despite the early hour because Indian trains run 24 hours a day and where there is a train, there is a huge throng of people.
Though it’s part of the New Delhi Metro network it’s rather different with a completely different type of train and airport style security before you can buy a ticket and go down to the platform. I bought my ticket, a snip at Rs80 (£1) and boarded an almost empty train for the 18 minute journey to the airport. There are check-in desks at New Delhi station but they close 2.5 hours before your flight departs rendering them useless for all but the earliest of earlybirds. I shut my eyes briefly but was quickly startled back to life with a long recorded message in Hindi then English about the next stop. It was like being on a train at home where the aural assault is relentless and loud. The journey was smooth and quick with views of Delhi and the southern suburbs as they awoke on a cool and sunny morning. The Airport Express was really rather impressive. It opened well behind schedule and still wasn’t operating 24 hours a day (closed from 11pm-5am which is a rather busy part of the day at an Indian airport) but it was cheap and quick. Sadly in July 2012, a year after it opened, the line was closed as the authorities discovered broken clips, bearings that required rectification and girders that had cracked and needed to be recast. If and when it finally re-opens and runs 24 hours a day with a proper taxi rank at New Delhi station, it will be a useful asset to the city.
As promised, 18 minutes later I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport. The terminal building was a good 10 minutes walk from the platform and fairly easy with just a single suitcase on wheels. Like most rail links to an airport they are designed for and are convenient to those who travel light. Seeing the terminal building again but this time in the morning light I was again impressed by this modern building which showed Indian progress. I showed the Indian Security Force guard at the door my printed itinerary and was allowed to enter. I could see the Jet Airways check-in counters to my left and a several self check-in machines. The queue for the former was huge whilst the latter were all free. As I approached a machine, two Jet employees seemed genuinely pleased that I was going to use one. One of them asked me if I had used a self check-in machine before to which I replied “Yes”. This however, did not prevent her from trying to interfere with every step of the process! Eventually I got my boarding pass which she stamped along with a baggage tag for my hand luggage. Once through security my flimsy boarding pass looked rather the worse for wear.
It was still early and I hadn’t had enough sleep so I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me when the first two shops I saw were Marks & Spencers and a huge WH
Smiths. Was I back at Heathrow? Was I still asleep? Evidently not because as I stood there confused, someone wheeled their suitcase into me and then tutted! The new domestic departures lounge is on two floors.
The lower floor has the usual array of shops and snack bars. The upper level (from which the above photo was taken) has a food court and airline lounges. I wanted some breakfast but the restaurants were still opening and nothing I wanted would be ready before I had to head to the gate so I bought a Diet Coke and sat in the relative quiet of the food court until boarding was announced and I set off in search of my flight. The long single pier (well two, one domestic, one international) design of the gate area at Delhi means that your gate can easily be a good hike from the departure lounge. And so it was this morning which didn’t really improve my slightly crotchety demeanor. By the time I reached the gate I just wanted to get on board and sleep. I approached an agent at the gate and asked how full the flight was and whether I could change my seat if there was an empty row. She told me to ask onboard and so I did on arrival at the aircraft door. The FA
told me that there were empty rows but as I hadn’t asked before now, I would have to sit in my seat until we had reached our cruising altitude. Oh well. I squeezed myself into 11C next to two rotund businessmen who’s collective girth had invaded part of my seat. As they poured over a document and shouted to each other my efforts to try and drown out their noise was punctuated with the odd elbow to my side. The noise level increased as the final passenger boarded. Her upgrade hadn’t cleared and so she had been given 10D with E and F blocked. Row 10 is the first row of economy. These are great seats as there is an eye-level curtain but no bulkhead in front of them and at full stretch you still wouldn’t touch the Premier class seats beyond the curtain. She was rather stroppy about missing out on an upgrade and ensured that we could all hear about it. Eventually she got over this monumental disappointment. I dozed off a little between the safety demonstration and our taxi to the runway but as the engines spooled up, I was awake.
By now I had been up for a few hours and really hadn’t had enough sleep so with a mixture of a headache, the two businessmen and their animated conversation about what appeared to be some prized flugelbinding equipment and Mrs 10D moaning about not getting a Business Class meal, I was mighty close to the end of my tether. Directly the seat belt light was extinguished I jumped up, grabbed by bag and made for the back of the plane where there were a number of empty rows. Spying a flight attendant I made it clear that I was moving and he seemed to know better than to initiate a conversation with a now rather cranky individual. Mrs 10D was quite enough for him.
Moving seats made for a quieter flight and less tender ribs (from all that elbowing) but by now I was hungry and the smell of breakfast would further postpone any hope of sleep. When the flight attendant reached me he asked me whether I’d like “A South Indian breakfast or an egg based pizza”. What the heck is an ‘egg based pizza’ I wondered so I asked, “Do you mean an omelette?” He replied “No sir, it’s an egg based pizza. It’s an egg with some vegetables”. Here is an example of the change that India is undergoing. An omelette is old hat, but calling it a pizza makes it sound more cosmopolitan. I went with the South Indian breakfast which was tasty but really ought to have come with a fire extinguisher for my mouth. There must have been steam coming out of the top of my head because from nowhere I was handed two extra bottles of water which were dispatched with haste.
We were almost in Pune and scheduled to land well ahead of schedule. Our arrival was delayed slightly by some military traffic but we still landed a good 20 minutes early. I stepped off the plane into the more humid heat of inland Maharastra and thankfully into the air conditioned comfort of the terminal building.
Kingfisher Airways IT153
I was able to leave Pune a little earlier than planned so I rang Jet to change my flight. Their earlier flights were full so I got a refund and had a look at alternatives. Despite the hullabaloo over Kingfisher and their predicted demise I noticed that their fares were much lower than any of their competitors and if they were in imminent danger of going bust then I’d like to try them once before they do. I booked a flight online and checked-in.
At the airport I was told that my hand baggage was too big to take into the cabin despite apparently conforming to the size regulations. The agent wouldn’t budge so I removed my laptop and sent my bag on its way. I was able to change my seat to one in an exit row. The boarding pass had a couple of small white stickers on it and once through security I was keen to see what was behind them. Arriving upstairs in the much expanded departure hall (Pune Airport had grown considerably since my last visit) I peeled one off to see the Oneworld logo. Kingfisher had been due to join around the time of my flight but this was postponed (indefinitely most agree) and so the logo had been covered up.
Pune Airport is principally a military airfield that has civilian traffic. Whilst the building has grown in size to cope with the increase in flights they are overwhelmingly domestic with just the occasional flight direct to the UAE and the almost daily Lufthansa service to Frankfurt operated by Private Air. There are a couple of air bridges but none of the flights before me, nor mine used them with passengers directed downstairs to walk across the tarmac to their aircraft. It’s only in India and once in Aberdeen last year that I have done that in recent memory so the novelty meant I didn’t really mind. Whilst in the departure lounge, there had been delays to flights before me followed by the raw noise of military jets. On boarding my flight we were told that there would be a short delay before departure because a couple of IAF jets were due to land at our slot time.
The aircraft was pretty empty. At a rough count it appeared that almost everyone had a row to themselves aside from my exit row which was full. The Flight Attendants (who looked quite glum) asked the person sitting next to me if she would sit in the row ahead for take-off and landing as it too was an exit row. She didn’t really understand so I volunteered to do so and said that I would stay there for the entire flight. The safety video was played whilst we sat on the ground waiting to depart. I had heard from others about this and how Dr Vijay Maliya (the Kingfisher CEO) had a prominent role in it, welcoming you to your flight and making grand promises about the onboard service. The recent financial crisis at Kingfisher had probably made these seem a little inappropriate and so a truncated version was played with just the safety element and no trace of the good Doctor.
We pushed back and headed towards the runway. On the way out I saw an Air India aircraft in the very old Indian Airlines livery. I saw another on arrival at Delhi. Further research on the internet later revealed that these aircraft had been grounded some time ago but with problems at Kingfisher and their massive overnight reduction in flights a few had been pressed into service. We stopped short of the runway, which gave me a great view of two IAF jets landing on our runway before we turned onto it, and made our way into the air.
The seatback TVs no longer had any functionality other than showing our route to Delhi and information associated with it. On the ground it had shown a direct path to Delhi and a flight time of 1 hour 20 minutes. After take-off instead of heading north, we flew west towards Mumbai and the time changed to 1 hour 55 minutes. Our eventual route was to overfly Mumbai and then fly north to Delhi following the usual track of a Mumbai-Delhi flight.
It was lunchtime and so I expected a meal of some description or a buy on board service, either of which would have been fine. Instead we were handed out tiny bottles of water and a ‘burger’. I asked what was in the burger as it appeared to be a small roll with a hidden filling and was told “cheese”. The prospect of a sweaty piece of processed cheese didn’t appeal so I declined. The crew reappeared 15 minutes later to collect the rubbish and wasn’t seen again until we landed. The flight was almost 2 hours and allowed me to catch up on a few podcasts. My bag was amongst the first on the carousel and I got a comfortable Meru cab back to where I was staying before going back to the Jet Airways office in Delhi to process my refund.
Spot the difference: hint, one has been through Indian airport security!
Emirates provide a car service to First and Business class passengers which is particularly helpful when your flight departs at 4am. The day prior to departure I was contacted by the local company that provides the service to reconfirm my address and pickup time. This was followed by a text message at 9pm on the night before I left with details of the drivers name, pickup time and brand of car. The driver arrived 15 minutes early at 1am in a big spacious Mercedes C class. I had had a rather terrible headache during the evening before and was feeling a little better at 1am but was rather thankful that the driver wasn’t chatty and let me sit in silence as we drove through an eerily quiet Delhi which only seemed to come to life near the busy airport. Instead of driving through the centre of Delhi and then heading south-west to the airport, we took a different route around the edge of the city which seemed far quicker. I noticed that the driver had a Sat-Nav which I hadn’t seen in many Indian cars. We arrived at Terminal 3 in good time and I gave the driver a decent tip as he loaded my bags on to a trolley. After negotiating my trolley (with wheels that had a mind of their own, a trait that pervades across the globe it seems) through the hoardes of people who had come to drop off their loved ones I made it to the door where my ticket was checked.
I remember the last time I left Delhi on an international flight through the old terminal 2. It must have been just as busy on this occasion but the huge spacious terminal meant that it seemed relatively quiet and calm. The FIDS screens directed me to the Emirates check-in desks which were opposite the Qatar Airways ones. Both flights were rather popular tonight with big queues for both. I could see the Emirates First Class check-in desk at the far end; next to it was a Business Class desk followed by a Skywards Gold and then a number of Economy Class desks which were heaving with the strain of people and bags. The First Class desk was occupied with a couple heading to West Africa replete with 16 suitcases. I was invited over to the Business Class desk where I was checked-in all the way to London. The check-in agent reminded me that I needed to fill in an embarkation card and lent me a pen to do so whilst she tagged my bags and printed our my boarding passes. She told me where the lounge was and gave me a recommended time to leave the lounge to board the aircraft.
After a quick look around the check-in area I walked to the immigration (well, emigration I suppose) control desks and security. As on arrival in India there were dedicated First and Business Class desk but for the first time there was a man at the entrance to the F/J queue checking eligibility. My Passport and emigration form were checked and stamped without a word passing between us save for my rather cheery ‘Hello’ which for 2am surprised me more than anyone else. I found myself in a busy departure lounge teaming with people as the bulk of Delhi’s international traffic takes place in the wee small hours of the